"Most people ask for happiness on condition. Happiness can only be felt if you don't set any condition." -Arthur Rubinstein

arthur-rubinstein-1950Happy Birthday Arthur Rubinstein!

Arthur Rubinstein (January 28, 1887 – December 20, 1982) was a Polish-American classical pianist who is widely regarded as one of the great musicians of the twentieth century. Rubinstein is known especially for his masterful interpretation of Frédéric Chopin. His concert career spanned eight decades. Rubinstein's musical prowess as well as his ability to speak eight languages, were largely attributed to his self-described photographic memory. Once, Rubinstein learned the whole of César Franck's Symphonic Variations during his train ride to the concert. Without a piano, he learned the passages by playing them on his lap.


Although his parents intended their son's name to be Leo, Rubinstein's eight year-old brother insisted that the baby needed to be called Arthur since Arthur, a neighbor's son "plays the violin so nicely, the baby may also become a great musician!". Indeed, by the age of two, Arthur Rubinstein proved worthy of his namesake by demonstrating perfect pitch. By the time he was four, he had attracted the attention of Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, who told Arthur's family, "This boy may become a very great musician -- he certainly has the talent for it... When the time comes for serious study, bring him to me, and I shall be glad to supervise his artistic education." 

In 1904, at the age of seventeen, Rubinstein moved to Paris to begin his career, and met composers Maurice Ravel and Paul Dukas and the violinist Jacques Thibaud. Two years later, Rubinstein made his New York debut at Carnegie Hall, followed by a tour of the United States, and then Austria, Italy, and Russia.

By 1908, his career reached its lowest point, and Rubinstein, desperate and broke, attempted to hang himself. He failed, and realized that he felt reborn, and endowed with a new love of life. In 1912, he made his London debut and became friends with musicians like Stravinsky, Pablo Casals, Pierre Monteux, and others.


ArturrubensteinDuring World War I, Rubinstein remained in London and toured around the world to much acclaim. However, his last performance in Germany was in 1914, and he would never play there again because of his contempt for German conduct during the war. Although he identified as agnostic, Rubinstein was deeply attached of his Jewish heritage, and was passionate about the recognition of Israel. Rubinstein and fellow Jewish musicians once refused to perform under the direction of a conductor who had remained in Germany during WWI. Rubinstein was also a Polish patriot, and performed the Polish national anthem loudly and slowly at the inauguration of the UN, where he angrily pointed out that there was no delegation from Poland.












Photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1937




Time Magazine, February 25, 1966

Throughout his life, Rubinstein possessed a wealth of natural talent and excellent technique, which allowed him to get away with avoiding practice. He relied on his ability to play charmingly and confidently to mask the lack of finish in his playing. However, after he had children, Rubinstein changed his approach, removing himself from public performances for a while to devote himself to the study of music. He stated that he did not want his children to take him as a has-been, so he began in the summer of 1934 to restudy his entire repertoire. "I buckled down back to work -- six hours, eight hours, nine hours a day." he recalled in 1958. "And a strange thing happened... I began to discover new meaning, new qualities, new possibilities in music that I have been regularly playing for more than 30 years."


However, Rubinstein truly felt that young musicians especially, should not practice too much. He believed in being surprised by each performance, and said, "At every concert I leave a lot to the moment. I must have the unexpected, the unforeseen. I want to risk, to dare. I want to be surprised by what comes out. I want to enjoy it more than the audience. That way the music can bloom anew. It's like making love. The act is always the same, but each time it's different."

By 1946, Rubinstein had become a naturalized American citizen, living in Brentwood, California. During his time in California, Rubinstein provided the piano soundtrack for several films. He appeared as himself, in the films Carnegie Hall and Of Men and Music.


Rubinstein was known for his highly developed aural abilities, of which he said, "At breakfast, I might pass a Brahms symphony in my head" he said. "Then I am called to the phone, and half an hour later I find it's been going on all the time and I'm in the third movement." Friends would often pick random extracts from scores and have him play from memory.

Rubinstein was married to Nela Młynarska and together they had five children. However, he had a series of affairs throughout his life, and at the age of 90, he left his wife for Annabelle Whitestone, with whom he lived until his death.

Rubinstein's ashes were buried in Jerusalem in a dedicated plot called "Rubinstein's Forest" which overlooks Jerusalem Forest. This was arranged with Israel's chief rabbis so that religious laws regarding cemeteries would not interfere with his wishes. In October 2007, his family donated to the Juilliard School an extensive collection of original manuscripts, manuscript copies and published editions that had been seized by the Germans during World War II from his Paris residence. Seventy-one items were returned to his four children, marking the first time that Jewish property kept in the Berlin State Library was returned to the legal heirs. In 1974, Jan Jacob Bistritzky established the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, held every three years in Israel, intended to promote the careers of young and outstanding pianists.


Rubinstein plays Chopin, Liszt, Schubert, Mendelssohn

Rubinstein plays the Music of Spain: Granados, Falla, Albéniz, Mompou

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 28 January 2014
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